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September 05 2012

00:00

Aerbook Maker, Kwik Help E-Books Come Alive with Multimedia

In the two years since I wrote a "A Self-Publisher's Primer to Enhanced E-Books and Book Apps," the development of user-friendly tools for authors to build rich-media books has boomed. Aerbook Maker and Kwik are two easy-to-use tools for authors of graphically rich enhanced e-books and apps. Mimetic Books is developing a tool for photographers and artists. The founders demonstrated these Corona-backed tools at the last meeting of the Palo Alto, Calif., Corona SDK Meetup Group titled "Bringing Stories to Life - eBook Development with Corona SDK."

Before I go into more detail, it's worth noting that these are really today's only options for authors who are not programmers to easily create picture books and games. Aerbook Maker is a browser-based, drag-and-drop tool that works much like presentation applications like Keynote and PowerPoint. Kwik is a plugin that extends Photoshop CS5 to create pages of a book and even animations. Mimetic is at work on a plugin to Adobe InDesign.

AERBOOK MAKER

Ron Martinez

Aerbook Maker was founded by Ron Martinez, an inventor with a long resume including the impressive title of vice president, Intellectual Property Innovation for Yahoo. He was there to demonstrate Aerbook Maker, talk about an upcoming Corona partnership, and give a sneak peak of projects in the pipeline.

If you're writing an illustrated children's' book, a book of photography, art, or any other heavily graphic book, Aerbook Maker is for you. Martinez demonstrated how easy it is to drag and drop your files into a window in the web browser. You can drop in photos, audio, video, text boxes, scene animation, and interactivity, then rearrange them and apply styles, colors, and frames.

When you're done, export your content to all the major e-book formats -- to HTML5 for viewing on the web -- and soon you'll be able to print.

A built-in social media feature lets readers share any page of your book on Twitter, Facebook, and other networks. Like Kwik and many other tools for authors, Aerbook is evolving, and though books are not fully or officially supported until iOS 6, your book will probably already work on the iPad today.

The tool is cloud-based, so whether you're just one author, or partnering with a designer or an entire team, the project is scalable and centrally available.

Aerbook Maker's pricing structure is based on export credits at $29 each or $99 for five exports. This removes the Aerbook watermark and generates a final version to download directly to devices and place with e-book retailers. Their services include book and app distribution, and they will help you build your book for a reasonable fee.

KWIK PHOTOSHOP PLUGIN

Kwiksher Book Floating FunKwik is now in release 2.0, and founder Alex Souza showed off some impressive cross-platform e-books: "Fire Cupid" (featured in the Wall Street Journal, TIME, the Washington Times and others), Frederick "Spin" (which soared to the No. 2 e-book in the Dutch App Store), and "Sparky the Shark" (a beloved, award-winning children's tale).

Kwik's capabilities allow much more than creation of a simple color book. You can add audio, sound effects, buttons, timers, actions, drag and drop objects, linear animation, sprite sheets, movie clips, even path animation. Children's book authors will be interested in the ability to sync audio to text so that the words are highlighted during playback. If you have items for sale in the iTunes App Store or Google Play, you can insert in-app purchases. Output your book to a universal app or iPad, iPhone, Kindle Fire, Nook Color or other Android device.

Kwik's creator, Alex Souza, holds a master's degree in Digital Design. In 1995, he was the first developer of a Shockwave game in his native Brazil, and in 2000 was a runner-up for the iBest Top 3 award, Brazil's most important Internet award. Later he worked for IBM and Microsoft, creating applications and marketing Microsoft Office, Expression and Silverlight.

"There are too many updates to 2.0 to list, but physics is a major thing in the new version," said Souza, "so the game-making capabilities have improved." Kwik 2 costs $249.99 for a new license and $149.99 for an upgrade but at launch. Look for it in late September and get introductory pricing at $199.99 and $99.99. The free trial version will allow you to export up to four project pages. For ideas on what can be done with Kwik, take a look at their showcase.

Mimetic Books

Golden Gate Bridge E-Book / AppPhotojournalist David Gross of Mimetic Books presented some of his recent e-books including App of the Week winner "A Wild Flight of the Imagination: The Story of the Golden Gate Bridge," a project he put together for its 75th anniversary. The free e-book weaves interactive photographs, artwork, letters, and newspaper clippings together with music, audio recordings and video.

Gross is a photographer who can code, and he invented his own way of importing his projects directly from Adobe InDesign (the tool that book designers use) and exporting the results to XML. Gross says that Mimetic Books plans to offer an InDesign plugin so that photographers and artists can create books to publish to the iPad and Nook. In the meantime, they do it for you. You choose from a number of designs, then send Mimetic the picture files. They can create a chapter from a properly captioned collection of photos in Lightroom or from captioned JPEG pictures. Or you can hire them to do full-service graphic design, photo-editing, copywriting, editing, animation, and custom programming.

Gross said that as well as using InDesign, "I am working on ways of using Google Apps, WordPress, and a custom browser-based editor to create books. As well, I am investigating whether Kwik can create plugins for books -- Kwik excels in making complex animations, so why should I?"

Regarding pricing, Gross said that "I was offering book apps starting at $850, but I found that clients did not have enough experience in graphic design to deliver 100% complete materials. The extra work I have to do to prepare clients' pictures, sound, and video, and the multiple changes clients make during the creation of the book, I have found a book project generally costs between $5,000 and $15,000. In addition, custom "interactive" pages also raise the price. But, I can produce a basic book app relatively cheaply using my system."

Mimetic plans to have some products ready to go near the end of October.

By now, you might be wondering, so what's an e-book and what's an app? Yes. The lines are blurring as content becomes portable among a variety of devices.

"Book apps are different from e-books," Gross explained. "E-books are data files which are displayed with readers. EPUB is one of the best-known data file formats designed for books of text (not fixed-format). A 'book app' is an app -- a stand-alone program -- that is a book. It's a weird idea, actually, a temporary effect of the state of publishing software and the market. In a rational world, it wouldn't exist, and I don't expect such things to exist in few years. Instead, we will have a few e-book file formats that the different devices can read and display."

Why the Corona SDK?

If you're geeky enough to know that SDK stands for Software Development Kit, you might be interested in the reasons these e-book and app platform developers chose the Corona SDK to power Aerbook Maker and Kwik export-to-app capabilities. They pointed me to David Rangel, COO of Corona Labs, to provide details, and here's what he told me.


"Corona integrates a number of advanced technologies such as OpenGL (widely adopted 2D and 3D graphics API), Box2D (a 2D physics engine for games), physics and more, to allow developers to create great mobile content," Rangel said. "If e-book platforms wanted to replicate these features on their own, it would take them loads of development time and expertise. By building to Corona SDK, they save a great deal of time and get to take advantage of our platform's offerings."



Adding to the previous point, Rangel said, "Corona allows developers to build apps for both iOS and Android, from a single code base. If e-book platforms want to support both of these operating systems, they would need to spend a lot of time and energy building in that support. As we add in more features and platform support for Corona SDK, Kwik and Aerbook Maker automatically reap the benefits."

Designers and illustrators are attracted to the SDK's core engine because of its popularity in the mobile space. Kwik and Aerbook Maker provide the added advantage of allowing e-book authors to create impressive content without the need for code.

Watch the YouTube Video

The folks at Corona Labs recorded the event.



Carla King is an author, a publishing consultant, and founder of the Self-Publishing Boot Camp program providing books, lectures and workshops for prospective self-publishers. She has self-published since 1994 and has worked in multimedia since 1996. Find her workshop schedule and buy the Self-Publishing Boot Camp Guide for Authors on SelfPubBootCamp.com.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

May 30 2011

11:56

“Article” or traditional news story still necessary? - Jeff Jarvis: it's a byproduct of the process.

Buzzmachine | Jeff Jarvis :: The accepted wisdom of journalism and its schools was that storytelling was our real job, our high calling, our real art. Ain’t necessarily so. The accepted wisdom of blogging has been that now any of us can do everything: report and write, producing text and audio and video and graphics and packaging and distributing it all. But Jeff Jarvis can also see specialization returning with some people reporting, others packaging. He asks: "Can we agree to a new accepted wisdom: that the most precious resource in news is reporting and so maximizing the acquisition of facts and answers is what we need?"

[Jeff Jarvis:] So what is an article? An article can be a byproduct of the process.

Continue to read Jeff Jarvis, www.buzzmachine.com

May 09 2011

12:37

AN INTERNATIONAL STATEMENT ON INFOGRAPHICS AND VISUAL JOURNALISM

Last week, we saw how some of the “worst offenders” explained the Osama bin Laden story with fictional graphics.

As soon as I started to post some tuitts in my Twitter account @GINER, I saw that many colleagues from many countries reacted in the same way, among them ny friend Alberto Cairo, the infographics editor of EPOCA magazine in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

With Alberto, we wrote “six basic rules” that must be observed to deliver real news with graphics.

Then I contacted Barry Sussman, an INNOVATION Senior Consultant that now serves as editor of the Harvard University Nieman Watchdog Project and he offered that website to post the “check-list” with a short article, and a first list with 58 colleagues from 22 countries immediately endorsed the statement.

Claude Erbsen in New York edited the “six rules” and Barry Sussman in Washington DC edited the full article.

A few minutes ago all this was posted at the Nieman Watchdog website with the same illustration that leads this post, as it fits the purpose and sense of this statement: the front page of the William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal “explaining” the news from Cuba.

And we included a few examples from some of the “worst offenders.”

Like this one from UOL in Brazil:

This from the Daily Mail in the UK:

This one from CBS News:

This one from ABC in Madrid:

This one from the Hindustan Times in India:

This one from NMA News in Taiwan:

Or this from JT France:

You can find an extensive selection with wise comments of Gert K Nielsen about some of the best and worst infographics in his blog VisualJournalism.

But, more important, we just wanted to stress five ideas:

  • Facts ,not fiction, is what drives Journalism.
  • Visual Journalism is not Show Business.
  • Editors must lead this battle against fake information.
  • Visual journalists must resist any pressure to deliver graphics “at any cost.”
  • And infographics are not a substitute when we don’t have real information.

This what I learned from Alejandro Malofiej, Miguel Urabayen, Peter Sullivan, Mario Tascón, John Grimwade, Chiqui Esteban, Nigel Holmes or Javier Zarracina, and many of the best visual journalists of the world.

And we cannot accept less.

• If you agree with these convictions, please add your signature in the comments section of the Nieman Watchdog, spread the word between your newsrooms, and we will include your names in the next editions of this first wave of endorsements.

April 03 2011

16:31

10 useful resources about data visualization

These will be useful to introduce students, journalists, or yourself to the concepts of data visualization. Bonus: There’s an interesting discussion on Quora about the difference between information graphics and data visualization.

(1) When the Data Struts Its Stuff (April 2, 2011): A 1,000-word article that covers a lot of non-journalism work in this field, including the marvelous Gapminder World.

(2) 7 Things You Should Know About Data Visualization: This two-page PDF from EduCause provides a text-only explanation.

Representing large amounts of disparate information in a visual form often allows you to see patterns that would otherwise be buried in vast, unconnected data sets. … Visualizations allow you to understand and process enormous amounts of information quickly because it is all represented in a single image or animation.

(3) FlowingData: This blog by Nathan Yau, a statistics scholar, is a wonderful resource, frequently updated with great examples from all kinds of sources.

(4) Visualization Options Available in Many Eyes: Part of the “Many Eyes” site from IBM Research, this list links to examples of every kind of information chart and graphic you can create with the Many Eyes application. You get an illustration and a clear, brief explanation — great for teaching. See an example: Bubble Chart Guide.

(5) VisualJournalism: A great blog that’s focused on information graphics and journalism, published by Gert K. Nielsen, a longtime news graphics editor in Denmark.

(6) Journalism in the Age of Data: A Video Report on Data Visualization by Geoff McGhee: Interviews with data graphics experts, including journalists and non-journalists. The package includes a large collection of linked resources, cleverly keyed to the videos, which are split into manageable short chapters. Geoff has been a journalist at The New York Times, ABCNews.com, and Le Monde Interactif.

(7) Datavisualization.ch: Another excellent blog devoted to the topic, and also a great source of recent examples. The authors are engineers and interaction designers at Interactive Things, a design and technology studio in Switzerland.

(8) 10 Awesome Free Tools to Make Infographics: Time to get your hands dirty! This useful blog post (from October 2010) also offers advice on how to make an information graphic.

(9) Research: How to Tell Stories with Data? This blog post at Information Aesthetics (yet another fine blog about data graphics) summarizes a groundbreaking article (How Do People Tell Stories Through Interactive Visualization?) written by two Stanford University researchers in 2010.

(10) A Practical Guide to Designing with Data: A new book by Brian Suda provides a gentle introduction — suitable for journalism students. It’s not high-end theory like the work of Edward Tufte, but the explanations are really well suited to people without a background in statistics or graphic design.

Know about a good resource I missed? Please add it in the comments!

16:31

10 useful resources about data visualization

These will be useful to introduce students, journalists, or yourself to the concepts of data visualization. Bonus: There’s an interesting discussion on Quora about the difference between information graphics and data visualization.

(1) When the Data Struts Its Stuff (April 2, 2011): A 1,000-word article that covers a lot of non-journalism work in this field, including the marvelous Gapminder World.

(2) 7 Things You Should Know About Data Visualization: This two-page PDF from EduCause provides a text-only explanation.

Representing large amounts of disparate information in a visual form often allows you to see patterns that would otherwise be buried in vast, unconnected data sets. … Visualizations allow you to understand and process enormous amounts of information quickly because it is all represented in a single image or animation.

(3) FlowingData: This blog by Nathan Yau, a statistics scholar, is a wonderful resource, frequently updated with great examples from all kinds of sources.

(4) Visualization Options Available in Many Eyes: Part of the “Many Eyes” site from IBM Research, this list links to examples of every kind of information chart and graphic you can create with the Many Eyes application. You get an illustration and a clear, brief explanation — great for teaching. See an example: Bubble Chart Guide.

(5) VisualJournalism: A great blog that’s focused on information graphics and journalism, published by Gert K. Nielsen, a longtime news graphics editor in Denmark.

(6) Journalism in the Age of Data: A Video Report on Data Visualization by Geoff McGhee: Interviews with data graphics experts, including journalists and non-journalists. The package includes a large collection of linked resources, cleverly keyed to the videos, which are split into manageable short chapters. Geoff has been a journalist at The New York Times, ABCNews.com, and Le Monde Interactif.

(7) Datavisualization.ch: Another excellent blog devoted to the topic, and also a great source of recent examples. The authors are engineers and interaction designers at Interactive Things, a design and technology studio in Switzerland.

(8) 10 Awesome Free Tools to Make Infographics: Time to get your hands dirty! This useful blog post (from October 2010) also offers advice on how to make an information graphic.

(9) Research: How to Tell Stories with Data? This blog post at Information Aesthetics (yet another fine blog about data graphics) summarizes a groundbreaking article (How Do People Tell Stories Through Interactive Visualization?) written by two Stanford University researchers in 2010.

(10) A Practical Guide to Designing with Data: A new book by Brian Suda provides a gentle introduction — suitable for journalism students. It’s not high-end theory like the work of Edward Tufte, but the explanations are really well suited to people without a background in statistics or graphic design.

Know about a good resource I missed? Please add it in the comments!

April 02 2011

03:38

Timelines in journalism: A closer look

You’re not going to create one every week, but a timeline is a useful — and helpful — type of information graphic, and fairly common in journalism. When teaching students about timelines, here are some ideas to consider and discuss:

Chronology or timeline?

Sometimes a timeline is not a timeline, according to Len de Groot, a longtime graphics journalist. A timeline shows actual spans of time, with proportional measurements for decades, years, days or hours, depending on the total time involved. “The space between events should be as important [as] or more important than the events themselves,” he says. A chronology, on the other hand, shows the momentum of a series of events. It might be more effective if presented as a list, or as an illustrated slideshow.

Here’s an excellent chronology about Operation Odyssey Dawn on Libya, from El País:

Cronología: Operación Amanecer de la Odisea sobre Libia

Not what we think of when we imagine a timeline, is it? But it’s quite well suited to telling the story of recent events in Libya, and it is being updated day by day. (Navigate days via the two arrows at upper left.)

The Wall Street Journal has published a multi-line timeline covering recent events in Arab countries (below). Selecting any day loads a region map and summary of events for that day in an area above the timeline. I like the way this compact layout shows us at a glance where activities have occurred, and when. This is a very successful timeline graphic tailored closely to the story.

WSJ: Middle East Turmoil

Here are some questions we can ask before we sketch our timeline ideas:

  1. Is this a story about hours, days, years or decades?
  2. Should equal periods of time be represented with equal space? (Example: 100 pixels equals one year.)
  3. Are parallel time periods required? (Example: While this was happening in India, this was happening in China.)
  4. Does it make sense to combine the timeline with a map or a line graph?
  5. Should photos or other images be added to the timeline to help tell the story?
  6. How much text is necessary to make the story understandable — and satisfying?

A “timeline” that does not represent time proportionally to space — but which works well, I think, because it is straightforward and clear, is this one by graphic designer Sean Carton:

Sean Carton: Social Media Timeline

Design questions

Most timeline graphics present time in horizontal lines, with the oldest events to the left and more recent ones progressing to the right (I suppose we would do it right-to-left if we were Arab or Chinese). A notable and very recent exception is the Guardian’s brilliant (and vertical) Arab spring: An interactive timeline of Middle East protests (blogged about by Tracy Boyer last week).

Guardian.co.uk: Arab Spring timeline graphic

I think it’s useful to think about Len de Groot’s distinction between timelines and chronologies when admiring this graphic: Is this really a “timeline”? I don’t think so — has there ever been a better illustration of the momentum of events? No need to quibble over the words, though, when the execution is so effective.

Here are some questions we can ask as we examine our sketches of our timeline ideas:

  1. Will people like it?
  2. Is it helpful, easy to understand?
  3. Is it confusing?
  4. Hard to use?
  5. Does it add something that text alone would not convey?
  6. Does the graphic need to be a timeline — or would a regular slideshow (or map, or whatever) be equally effective?

One of the more successful interactive timelines is 10 years old — every time I revisit this package about Winston Churchill, I am amazed all over again at how well it works. Note in particular the double timeline at the bottom: The upper bar is Churchill’s life, and the lower bar shows concurrent world events.

Library of Congress: Churchill and the Great Republic

The Template Trap

Sometimes I think we fall into a “one size fits all” trap with templates or tools. You have a template or a tool, and you re-use it for various stories. But is that always the right decision? Does expediency sometimes defeat the goal of clear communication?

WSJ: Deepwater Horizon Rig Disaster

I think the Deepwater Horizon Rig Disaster timeline (above) is much more successful than the Biggest Volcanic Eruptions (below), which skimps on details about the eruptions. Both are from The Wall Street Journal.

WSJ: Biggest Volcanic Eruptions

Likewise, CNN’s Trapped Chilean Miners timeline (below) is better suited to its timeline interface than the recent Egyptian Protests timeline, which uses the same interface.

CNN: Trapped Chilean Miners

Timeline tools

TimelineSetter is a new, free tool from the great folks at Pro Publica, the nonprofit investigative journalism organization. It’s not available for mass consumption just yet (“We have some more code generalization and fixes we need to do before it’s ready to open source, but we plan to do so as soon as we can,” they said on March 22), but it might be useful in lots of different situations. Below is a timeline created with this tool.

Pro Publica: How One Blast Affected Five Soldiers

The functionality and the design are similar to the timeline template The New York Times has been using for some time; for a recent example, see Elizabeth Taylor: 1932-2011 (below). I found the checkbox options to be distracting and unnecessary.

New York Times: Elizabeth Taylor: 1932-2011

Other free timeline tools were described (and linked) in a post by Alex Gamela in May 2010. Dipity and SIMILE are fairly well known; others are less so, but it’s worthwhile to check out the different visual approaches to presenting information in this way.

Which of these tools produces the best result for the story you want to tell?

Do not create an interactive timeline just because it’s cool. Use interactivity to make the information more clear.

Two older timelines that are worth a look:

03:38

Timelines in journalism: A closer look

You’re not going to create one every week, but a timeline is a useful — and helpful — type of information graphic, and fairly common in journalism. When teaching students about timelines, here are some ideas to consider and discuss:

Chronology or timeline?

Sometimes a timeline is not a timeline, according to Len de Groot, a longtime graphics journalist. A timeline shows actual spans of time, with proportional measurements for decades, years, days or hours, depending on the total time involved. “The space between events should be as important [as] or more important than the events themselves,” he says. A chronology, on the other hand, shows the momentum of a series of events. It might be more effective if presented as a list, or as an illustrated slideshow.

Here’s an excellent chronology about Operation Odyssey Dawn on Libya, from El País:

Cronología: Operación Amanecer de la Odisea sobre Libia

Not what we think of when we imagine a timeline, is it? But it’s quite well suited to telling the story of recent events in Libya, and it is being updated day by day. (Navigate days via the two arrows at upper left.)

The Wall Street Journal has published a multi-line timeline covering recent events in Arab countries (below). Selecting any day loads a region map and summary of events for that day in an area above the timeline. I like the way this compact layout shows us at a glance where activities have occurred, and when. This is a very successful timeline graphic tailored closely to the story.

WSJ: Middle East Turmoil

Here are some questions we can ask before we sketch our timeline ideas:

  1. Is this a story about hours, days, years or decades?
  2. Should equal periods of time be represented with equal space? (Example: 100 pixels equals one year.)
  3. Are parallel time periods required? (Example: While this was happening in India, this was happening in China.)
  4. Does it make sense to combine the timeline with a map or a line graph?
  5. Should photos or other images be added to the timeline to help tell the story?
  6. How much text is necessary to make the story understandable — and satisfying?

A “timeline” that does not represent time proportionally to space — but which works well, I think, because it is straightforward and clear, is this one by graphic designer Sean Carton:

Sean Carton: Social Media Timeline

Design questions

Most timeline graphics present time in horizontal lines, with the oldest events to the left and more recent ones progressing to the right (I suppose we would do it right-to-left if we were Arab or Chinese). A notable and very recent exception is the Guardian’s brilliant (and vertical) Arab spring: An interactive timeline of Middle East protests (blogged about by Tracy Boyer last week).

Guardian.co.uk: Arab Spring timeline graphic

I think it’s useful to think about Len de Groot’s distinction between timelines and chronologies when admiring this graphic: Is this really a “timeline”? I don’t think so — has there ever been a better illustration of the momentum of events? No need to quibble over the words, though, when the execution is so effective.

Here are some questions we can ask as we examine our sketches of our timeline ideas:

  1. Will people like it?
  2. Is it helpful, easy to understand?
  3. Is it confusing?
  4. Hard to use?
  5. Does it add something that text alone would not convey?
  6. Does the graphic need to be a timeline — or would a regular slideshow (or map, or whatever) be equally effective?

One of the more successful interactive timelines is 10 years old — every time I revisit this package about Winston Churchill, I am amazed all over again at how well it works. Note in particular the double timeline at the bottom: The upper bar is Churchill’s life, and the lower bar shows concurrent world events.

Library of Congress: Churchill and the Great Republic

The Template Trap

Sometimes I think we fall into a “one size fits all” trap with templates or tools. You have a template or a tool, and you re-use it for various stories. But is that always the right decision? Does expediency sometimes defeat the goal of clear communication?

WSJ: Deepwater Horizon Rig Disaster

I think the Deepwater Horizon Rig Disaster timeline (above) is much more successful than the Biggest Volcanic Eruptions (below), which skimps on details about the eruptions. Both are from The Wall Street Journal.

WSJ: Biggest Volcanic Eruptions

Likewise, CNN’s Trapped Chilean Miners timeline (below) is better suited to its timeline interface than the recent Egyptian Protests timeline, which uses the same interface.

CNN: Trapped Chilean Miners

Timeline tools

TimelineSetter is a new, free tool from the great folks at Pro Publica, the nonprofit investigative journalism organization. It’s not available for mass consumption just yet (“We have some more code generalization and fixes we need to do before it’s ready to open source, but we plan to do so as soon as we can,” they said on March 22), but it might be useful in lots of different situations. Below is a timeline created with this tool.

Pro Publica: How One Blast Affected Five Soldiers

The functionality and the design are similar to the timeline template The New York Times has been using for some time; for a recent example, see Elizabeth Taylor: 1932-2011 (below). I found the checkbox options to be distracting and unnecessary.

New York Times: Elizabeth Taylor: 1932-2011

Other free timeline tools were described (and linked) in a post by Alex Gamela in May 2010. Dipity and SIMILE are fairly well known; others are less so, but it’s worthwhile to check out the different visual approaches to presenting information in this way.

Which of these tools produces the best result for the story you want to tell?

Do not create an interactive timeline just because it’s cool. Use interactivity to make the information more clear.

Two older timelines that are worth a look:

January 11 2011

20:54

Visual narratives: Empirical data

From a research study by two scholars at Stanford:

In this paper, we investigate the design of narrative visualizations and identify techniques for telling stories with data graphics. We take an empirical approach, analyzing visualizations from online journalism, blogs, instructional videos, and visualization research. After reviewing related work, we share five selected case studies which highlight varied design strategies and illustrate our analytic approach. We then formulate a design space constructed from an analysis of 58 examples. Our analysis identifies salient dimensions of visual storytelling, including how graphical techniques and interactivity can enforce various levels of structure and narrative flow. We describe seven genres of narrative visualization: magazine style, annotated chart, partitioned poster, flow chart, comic strip, slide show, and video. These genres can be combined with interactivity and messaging to produce varying balances of author-driven and reader-driven experiences. [boldface added]

Here’s the study: Narrative Visualization: Telling Stories with Data (PDF).

I found it thanks to a post on the blog Information Aesthetics. Together with Nathan Yau’s Flowing Data, it’s a source of much wonder and delight.

20:54

Visual narratives: Empirical data

From a research study by two scholars at Stanford:

In this paper, we investigate the design of narrative visualizations and identify techniques for telling stories with data graphics. We take an empirical approach, analyzing visualizations from online journalism, blogs, instructional videos, and visualization research. After reviewing related work, we share five selected case studies which highlight varied design strategies and illustrate our analytic approach. We then formulate a design space constructed from an analysis of 58 examples. Our analysis identifies salient dimensions of visual storytelling, including how graphical techniques and interactivity can enforce various levels of structure and narrative flow. We describe seven genres of narrative visualization: magazine style, annotated chart, partitioned poster, flow chart, comic strip, slide show, and video. These genres can be combined with interactivity and messaging to produce varying balances of author-driven and reader-driven experiences. [boldface added]

Here’s the study: Narrative Visualization: Telling Stories with Data (PDF).

I found it thanks to a post on the blog Information Aesthetics. Together with Nathan Yau’s Flowing Data, it’s a source of much wonder and delight.

November 10 2010

16:30

Augmented Reality Invades Newsrooms, Kids' Shows, Ads

You point your wireless device -- cell phone, iPad, whatever -- at a graphic on a box of unassembled furniture and then the instructions, complete with 3-D diagrams, instantly appear on-screen. Point at a piece of paper and it's suddenly a game board shared by friends across the room or across the world.

This is augmented reality, or AR. While still in its infancy, it's light years ahead of old-fashioned virtual reality. For one, you don't need bulky gear; you can use AR anywhere your wireless device can go. Plus, the environment is real -- only the graphics are simulated. All you need is a webcam or wireless device with the proper software and a nearby "marker," a graphic that activates the application.

"With augmented reality you can go around the real world and see information and data overlaid on top of anything out there," said Ori Inbar, co-founder of augmented reality firm Ogmento.

Inbar and AR experts from PBS, Qualcomm and Alcatel-Lucent spoke recently on a panel at FutureMedia Fest at Atlanta's Georgia Tech. They all agreed that AR is about to show explosive growth. It's already cropping up all around us.

AR By CNN

CNN debuted an augmented reality effect during its 2010 election night coverage. Instead of routine full-screen graphics, Ali Velshi strolled through a 3-D bar graph of exit poll results that seemed to hang in mid-air. Watch it here:

Anderson Cooper used a huge virtual Capitol to set the stage for the results. John King used a touch-wall election matrix to scroll through 100 races, showing the depth of the Republican incursion into Democratic incumbent territory.

"What we did [on election] night was actually incredibly complicated," CNN senior vice president and Washington bureau chief David Bohrman said the day after the elections.

While the effect looked seamless, Bohrman said it required a huge network of infrared lights, computers and of course, people. "What's important is that we're able to clearly explain what's happening," he said. "The election matrix was absolutely illuminating on the changes in Congress. It was one of the most revealing and informative graphic devices I think I've ever seen used anywhere."

The correspondents were indeed manipulating the graphics themselves, he says. Velshi, for example, controlled the graphics from an iPad app. "It made it much better," Bohrman said. "It's better to have the person who's telling the story trigger those things than have someone off-camera."

Bohrman, who also dreamed up the 2007 CNN/YouTube presidential debate and the virtual Capitol and hologram effect in 2008, is already planning for 2012.

Other News Media Applications

Ogmento's Inbar sees additional potential uses for AR by news organizations. "You see a big crowd and you don't know what's happening there -- you point your device and all of a sudden you get 'the president is visiting' or 'there's been an accident,'" he said. "It's kind of like Twitter but with a visual aspect to it."

Aside from CNN, another TV operation in Atlanta has already adopted AR. WXIA-TV 11 Alive will beam the day's headlines at you if you click on a graphic next to the Twitter and Facebook icons on its website. The station will also use AR at two upcoming public events. The audience at a Social Media Atlanta 2010 discussion about the Democratization of News will be able to receive information and videos about the panelists on their phones. (Disclosure: I am providing public relations services for that conference.) The station will also put a marker in a printed program for a holiday lights display to give visitors traffic updates in order to help them get home.

Magazines dove in last year when actor Robert Downey, Jr. leapt off the cover of Esquire's December "augmented reality issue":

A fashion spread inside the issue also let readers change both the weather and Jeremy Renner's clothes. Floating animation surrounded actress Gillian Jacobs as she told a joke.

AR For Kids and Ads

Aside from the world of news, it also has tremendous potential for education.

"Every new technology is an opportunity for learning," said PBS Kids Interactive vice president Sara DeWitt, who notes that one of AR's most exciting aspects is its ability to connect kids to the real world. "We see some real possibilities for young kids to interact with these 3-D objects in a way that they normally wouldn't."

PBSKids.org recently launched Dinosaur Train Hatching Party, an augmented reality game for 3- to 5-year-olds. An adult prints out a colorful graphic and when a pre-schooler holds it in front of a webcam, a 3-D dinosaur egg appears on-screen. Because eggs need the warmth of the sun to hatch, the toddler turns the paper so light hits it from different directions. A baby dinosaur cracks open the egg and asks the child simple science questions he or she answers by touching the paper.

AR also opens up a whole new world for advertising. This spring Calvin Klein Underwear partnered with GQ to present AR underwear ads. In July, Gannett subsidiary PointRoll and marketing company Oddcast announced they'd bring AR to banner ads. The press release cited a possible use case: "a car manufacturer can create an AR environment that mimics a new car model's interior where users can examine the interior freely, almost as if they were physically sitting inside the car."

More gee-whiz uses, especially in gaming, could be coming soon. On October 4, Qualcomm announced it was giving away its AR Software Development Kit for Android smartphones in order to encourage developers to build new applications. Then, of course, there is the potential for AR to integrate with and impact the world of social media.

"I think social media is inseparable from augmented reality," Inbar said. "You're in the real world and you want to interact with your real friends. In a sense it's going to be an integral part of any AR experience in the future."

There are still barriers to be overcome before AR is commonplace. On the panel, Jay Wright, director of business development at Qualcomm, joked that augmented reality is a battery's worst nightmare due to its power-draining abilities. Much more work is needed to make AR reach its potential on devices. User adoption is another significant challenge.

While it could take years to enter the mainstream, augmented reality is clearly gaining momentum. It's only a matter of time before it enters a classroom -- or a newsroom -- near you.

Terri Thornton, a former investigative reporter and TV news producer, owns Thornton Communications, an award-winning PR and social media firm. She is also a freelance editor for Strategic Finance and Management Accounting Quarterly.

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August 13 2010

08:00

#Tip of the day from Journalism.co.uk – maps in newspapers

News Designs offers great advice on using maps in newspapers, looking at colours, typography, images and headlines. Tipster: Rachel McAthy. To submit a tip to Journalism.co.uk, use this link - we will pay a fiver for the best ones published.


July 10 2010

19:34

May 04 2010

16:02

Looking at jQuery for visual journalism

With all this talk about the so-called death of Adobe Flash, the future of HTML5, etc., I thought I should take a closer look at jQuery. This post is intended to give you an overview and help you decide whether you too should take a closer look.

My first thought is that if you have weak skills in CSS (or no CSS skills at all), you can’t even think about using jQuery. You would need to improve your CSS skills before you tackled jQuery.

With that out of the way (sorry if that ruined your day), let’s note that:

  • jQuery is JavaScript.
  • jQuery is free and not a commercial product.
  • The home and source of jQuery is jQuery.com. You can download it there.

As an introduction, I really liked this: jQuery Tutorials for Designers. It shows you what jQuery makes possible on today’s Web pages, and even if you don’t want to look at the code, you can open each of the 10 examples and click and see what it does. So in about 15 minutes, you will have a better idea about jQuery’s usefulness.

This example is my favorite: Image Replacement. It’s simple, and it’s really easy to apply this to all kinds of visual journalism situations that an online designer might encounter.

Many of the other examples are things I wouldn’t bother to do on Web pages, even though they look cool. I was reminded of how a lot of people are saying Flash is unnecessary because you can do all the menu effects and flyovers with JavaScript instead. These examples prove that. Of course, my view of Flash is not to use it for eye candy (like most of these jQuery examples), but instead to use it for complex explanatory journalism, like this.

For a very nice slideshow built with jQuery, see this tutorial: Create a Slick and Accessible Slideshow Using jQuery.

There’s also a nifty jQuery plug-in for making a slideshow: Coda-Slider (thanks to Lauren Rabaino for that link!).

Here’s another good tutorial for a slideshow: Automatic Image Slider w/ CSS & jQuery.

For the geeks among you, read why you should link to Google’s copy of jQuery instead of using a version on your own Web host.

And finally, the ever-helpful Chrys Wu (@MacDivaONA) recommended these free video tutorials for learning jQuery.

April 24 2010

21:24

New Flash journalism tutorials

I would call this past 12 months “the year I re-learned ActionScript.” After a semester of teaching Adobe Flash CS4 and ActionScript 3.0 to journalism/design students, I’ve got a better handle on both. I’m not too worried about CS5 changing too much — CS4 was the radical, once-in-a-decade (I hope) reworking of the foundations of the Flash application.

So as to share the wealth, I organized many of the tutorial files I created for my students and put them online here: How to Do Stuff in Flash CS4 (AS3).

This is not a comprehensive, how-to-do-everything-in-Flash set of lessons. The students also had a textbook. For further details, see Updating Flash Journalism (Dec. 6, 2009) and Updating Flash Journalism (Part 2).

The tutorials and Flash files are free to download and use for any non-commercial purpose.

March 14 2010

17:21

Portrait of a great communicator

Yesterday I watched a documentary video I had TiVo’d earlier from the Sundance Channel:

Milton Glaser: To Inform & Delight

Unfortunately it’s not yet available on Netflix (?!), even though it was released last May. I recommend that you file the title away so you remember to watch it later. It’s a very good example of documentary storytelling, for one thing. It also portrays Glaser as a lovely human being, sincere and compassionate, not spoiled by his great talent or his fame.

I think this video would be very inspirational for a lot of our journalism design and graphics students, because in it  you can see how Glaser produced commercial work, paid his bills, ran a design studio in New York — and yet did not compromise his principles, did not grow a raging ego, and (deservedly) won a lot of admirers.

Of course, you’ll also get to see a ton of examples of his wonderful graphics and drawings in the video — and maybe, like me, you’ll appreciate for the first time how very broad and deep his oeuvre is.

March 11 2010

03:25

21 examples of Flash journalism

These are interactive news packages I’ve selected to show to journalism students as we discuss some of the capabilities of Adobe Flash. Many are very recent.

1. Motion

The first thing students learn to do in Flash is animation. Although a lot of animation is merely eye candy, it can help to tell the story more effectively.

The motion in Super Stadium (2010) is window dressing, but there’s nothing wrong with that. In this segment, there’s a zoom on each level of the stadium as it flies out. In other segments, we see an alpha fade. These animation effects are easy to do on the Flash Timeline.

In Last Minutes of Flight 3407 (2009), a 3-D plane rotation illustrates what happened in the air. Other animation in this graphic traces the plane’s path on a map; the map then zooms in close to indicate where the plane went down.

An extraordinary feat of reporting: What happened: Death of Jean Charles de Menezes (2007) shows in 25 steps how London police pursued and killed an innocent man. With this level of detail, it’s essential to make sure the motion is fully accurate. The story is enhanced by inset videos taken from closed-circuit cameras throughout the city.

Manufacturing Chocolate from Seed to Sweet (2007) presents a step-by-step explanation of a process, with animations (such as milk pouring from a bottle) that are initiated by the user.

Four years ago, every winter sport was explained in these detailed animated graphics: Turin 2006 Winter Olympic Games. They offer particularly good examples of motion used strategically to explain. Even if you don’t know a word of Spanish, you can learn from watching these.

2. Button symbols

To add interactivity to a Flash graphic or animation, you’ll need to master buttons — and that means dipping into ActionScript. It’s well worth the effort, as I hope these examples will show.

The rollover buttons in Damage in Haiti (2010) cause pop-up panels to appear. It’s possible for relative beginners at Flash to create this kind of typical map effect.

Black Tides: A Timeline (2005?) offers a more complex map interface, but the circles on the world map and on the timeline bar at bottom are buttons. Not shown: A vertical stack of buttons on the left side of the graphic. (Unfortunately, the photos that used to be in this package have now all gone missing.)

The Mekong: A River and a Region Transformed (2010): This beautiful interface, integrated loosely with a map, uses a photo button and a separate text button to open a slideshow; a separate text button takes you to a story page with audio.

In The Debt Trap (2008), a sequence of 10 invisible buttons display information about each year in the selected decade slice — a great data graphic. (To see this segment, select Start, then go to Lifetime/Explore.)

TKTS – A House of Glass (2008) uses the Times’s standard button bar with numerals + NEXT. I think the first time they deployed this button bar was in Small Plane Hits Building in Manhattan (2006).

3. Movie clip symbols

After a student masters simple interactivity with buttons, it’s time to tackle the real power of Flash — and that means movie clips. Movie clips make possible a lot of functionality that can’t be accomplished with basic Timeline animation.

What causes earthquakes? (To see this cutaway diagram, click the second tab at the top.) The moving red arrows and the radiating circles are movie clips.

Slot machine (2009): The rolling sections inside the machine and the light on top are movie clips.

Budget Forecasts, Compared with Reality (2010): The drag slider at the bottom and the rollovers on the fever chart are movie clips.

In Scenes from a Ruined Boulevard (2010), a different kind of slider movie clip (bottom center) drags across a long panorama to show the destruction of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Four pop-up text panels distinguish this design from the typical 360-degree panorama.

Produced for the U.S. Library of Congress in 2001, Churchill and the Great Republic remains one of the great digital information packages (select the “Timeline” option to see this view). The way the timeline bars (lower portion of the screen) work in concert with the main display area is typical of movie clip functionality.

4. Maps and Data

Three of these examples are data-driven maps. Now you’re looking at the hard stuff — the integration of large data sets tied to dynamically generated objects.

Visualizing the U.S. Electric Grid (2009): Both of the maps above come from the same package. Users have a lot of opportunities to explore and view the data that interests them.

Haiti, territorio devastado (2010): This beautiful 3-D map of Haiti allows the user to select various kinds of information to display as overlays. (There’s also an animated cutaway that shows earthquake activity beneath the surface.)

Top: Geography of a Recession (2009) provides data for each county in the United States. Compare that with the map below it — Immigration Explorer (2009) — and you’ll see how much sense it makes to build interactive graphics that use external data sources. Once you’ve got a map like this working the first time, you can swap out the data set and tweak it to serve a wholly different story.

Gay marriage chronology (2009): This map interacts with the timeline below it to show how states have changed their laws to allow or prohibit gay marriages.

Although it’s simpler than the preceding map examples, History of Religion tells a story efficiently and clearly with the help of color and motion, with a minimum of text.

If you have other examples to suggest, I’d be happy to see the links!

February 28 2010

21:02

Spending time with Los Angeles homicides

Have you seen the L.A. Times homicides map? I’m sure you’ve marveled at the New York Times homicides map, and perhaps you have also admired the Boston Globe homicides map. The L.A. map, however, has a lot (a lot!) of fine features that the others lack.

One of my students wrote a critique of the L.A. map for an assignment, and that led me to go deeper into it than I had before. Turns out that it’s probably the best implementation I’ve ever seen of Adrian Holovaty’s 2006 call to action, A fundamental way newspaper sites need to change.

I’m particularly impressed by the article level of the data — the story — for each and every victim of homicide (see here and here and here, for example). Check out The Homicide Report blog too.

(Props to Ken Schwencke, a Gator journalism grad, whose love of data and code is all over this thing.)

February 04 2010

14:44

YOUNG READERS? GIVE THEM EDITORIAL PRODUCTS LIKE EUREKA

eureka-the-times

Since October 2009, The Times of London is publishing EUREKA.

It’s a monthly magazine that excels in editorial quality, brilliant graphics and topics that attract young readers:

Science. Life. The Planet.

Watch here a video about the magazine.

Today’s one has 60 pages (11 with ads).

Editorial products of this kind show the way to make your paper compelling, relevant and necessary for a high quality audience.

So, less garbage promotions and more real meaningful content.

Good journalism is a good business!

January 23 2010

11:16

January 20 2010

16:01

Updating Flash Journalism (Part 2)

The other day I received an e-mail from someone with a programming background who’s interested in learning how to build journalism packages in Flash. He asked how to get started and whether I was planning to release a new edition of my 2005 book Flash Journalism: How to Create Multimedia News Packages.

First I directed him to my December 2009 post about why I will not be updating my book.

I am recommending Adobe Flash CS4 Professional Classroom in a Book. It’s not directed specifically at journalists or news graphics reporters, but it’s easy to follow for the most part.

Then I gave him this outline of what he needs to learn:

  1. Button scripting (for navigation through the package): Adobe Flash CS4 Professional Classroom in a Book, Lesson 6; see also AS3 Buttons Tutorial
  2. Loading external content dynamically: Adobe Flash CS4 Professional Classroom in a Book, Lesson 9
  3. How to optimize images in Flash (Bitmap Properties):  Imported Bitmaps
  4. How to load and control external MP3s: Using Sound in ActionScript 3
  5. How to load and control video: Adobe Flash CS4 Professional Classroom in a Book, Lesson 7 (starting on page 252)
  6. ActionScript 3 and XML loading/controls (XML works awesomely well with AS3): I have built a tutorial for this that is meant to be used in conjunction with the files and the exercise in Adobe Flash CS4 Professional Classroom in a Book, Lesson 8 (download the files; 234 KB). Please note that the exercise will not make sense without the book!

Now, after you’ve got all that under your belt, you will need to spend some time learning how to use the Bandwidth Profiler (Adobe Flash CS4 Professional Classroom in a Book, Lesson 10) to make sure no one can accuse you of building heavy (overly large) Flash files. Heavy Flash files are NOT an indicator that Flash is bad; they simply show that the person who built the files didn’t know how to do it right!

If someone tells you that Flash graphics do not show up in Google or Yahoo! searches — that is incorrect.

If someone tells you that SWF is a proprietary file format, or that SWFs can be created only with Adobe software applications, that is also incorrect.

You should also learn how to use SWFObject to embed your Flash files (SWFs) in regular Web pages.

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